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2014 Lexus IS Long-Term Update 6: IS 350 F Sport

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 9/29/2014 Scott Evans, Motor Trend Staff

In previous updates I've touched substantially on how the various IS cars drive, so I'd like to use this one to talk about how you interact with them. Sure, interactivity is just one aspect of the car, but when it controls so many vehicle functions, there's no getting around the fact that you'll be dealing with it on a daily basis. Technology long ago invaded the dashboard and took up residence, and in modern cars such as the IS there's almost no avoiding some kind of touchscreen or remote-activated entertainment and information system, known in the industry as the infotainment system. Lexus calls its technology Remote Touch.

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Remote Touch is unique among infotainment systems in that it doesn't use a touchscreen or a rotary knob controller. Instead, Lexus has developed a little joystick that works sort of like a computer mouse to control an arrow on the screen. It's an interesting approach and one that should be pretty intuitive to anyone who's ever used a computer, but the execution falls a bit short.

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport The biggest issue, to me, is the latency. The arrow simply doesn't move as quickly across the screen as your fingers move the controller. (I like a fast-moving mouse on my computer.) As such, I'm always waiting on it and double-checking the screen to make sure it ended up on the right button, lest I have blown past it. I've found that reducing the force feedback (which tugs on the controller to make it "stop" briefly on each button on the screen) to the minimum greatly reduces the lag, but doesn't eliminate it. While I appreciate the idea of having the arrow snap to the available buttons on the screen, in practice it tends to get stuck on a button you don't want, then jump right across the one you do want when you move it again. You select a button by pressing straight down on the controller, but if you don't press straight down, it might skip off the button to another.

My other beef is with the control layout. Just in front of the controller are three buttons: Menu, Home, and up/down scroll arrows. The scroll arrows are handy for quickly zooming in and out on the map screen, but the button is so small I usually forget it exists. The Menu button takes you to the base menu with every option, while the Home button takes you to the customizable Home screen, which I rather like. You can configure it into two or three tiles, with each individually customizable. I prefer map, radio, and weather.

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Back to the beef. Getting between functions takes too many steps. There's a hard button for the radio screen, but it's a little tiny button up on the center stack under the climate controls, nowhere near the controller (which is next to the shifter). There is no hard button for the navigation screen, or any other screen not already mentioned. Getting to the navigation (or any of the cloud-based functions such as weather, Internet search, Internet radio, etc.) requires going through the base menu or Home screen. The extra steps just mean more time with your eyes off the road.

Is Remote Touch the worst infotainment system on the market? Not hardly. Are its problems terminal? Not at all. Some thoughtful updates with more direct buttons (like many of Lexus' competitors have incorporated on their systems) and reduced controller lag would cure most of what ails it. The controller lag has already been addressed in the all-new Lexus NX crossover, in which it was removed and replaced by a touch pad that I hope reacts faster. As for hard buttons, many (such as navigation) are still missing and others, such as radio, are spread across the center stack. I hope Lexus decides to bring these related controls together in the future. No one likes hunting for a button while they're trying to drive.

More on our long-term 2014 Lexus IS:

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport

2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Lexus IS 350 F Sport
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